Charlene stood outside Roy’s office door, her fingers just touching her lips. She hadn’t expected the kiss, but had liked it, and would have liked it even better if it had lasted longer. If only he hadn’t apologized for it. She was about to reach to touch his face when he backed away from her. It had been twelve years since their lips had met, and she had missed it, missed him, every day since.
Leaving him sleeping so peacefully in her hotel room bed early that morning so many years ago had been the second hardest decision she had made in her life at that time.
The longer she lay there next to him, with the bright moon outside the large window casting just enough light through the thin sheers for her to study his fine features, the harder it became. With the bedsheet covering only the lower half of his taut body, she had watched the steady rise and fall of his muscled chest, running her finger gently along the outlines of it. But she’d had no choice but to leave. She had to return to Dallas, to Andrew. He was sick. He needed her.
She had slipped out of bed, gathered her clothes of the night before up off the floor, and tiptoed into the bathroom, where she dressed and gathered her things into her bag. Roy had continued to sleep and only made a low, soft moan when she touched her lips to his ever-so-gently and whispered I love you before slipping out of the room, closing the door behind her as silently as possible.
Caught up in the memories of that morning as she made her way down the long corridor of the courthouse after leaving, Charlene failed to notice the woman in skin-tight jeans and low-cut floral blouse coming down the hall toward her until they stood face to face.
“Oh, you again. I wasn’t expecting to run into you here,” Denise said, her hands on her hips, wrinkling her nose as she gave Charlene the once over. “I assume Roy is in his office?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, but you just missed him. He just left out the back door,” Charlene replied, turning to point down the hall in the direction of Roy’s office. “He seemed to be in a big hurry.
Something about an issue out on the Interstate needing his immediate attention.” She shrugged her shoulders as if to say she wasn’t certain and flashed a smile. “I can give him a message for you if you’d like when he picks me up for dinner this evening.”
The woman’s eyes narrowed. “No, thanks, that won’t be necessary. I’ll deliver my message personally later.” She made a quick pivot on her red western boots and pranced back toward the entrance lobby, hips in full swing.
Charlene heaved a huge sigh of relief as she watched her disappear down the hallway. Young, naive, meek Charlene White would have never been able to stand there, straight-faced, and told such a bold-faced lie. Charlene Billows, however, had matured and toughened over the years. She had left Dallas the night before with a plan, a plan that was quickly evolving. There was no place in that plan for the likes of Denise.
When she reached the lobby, she found Denise talking—flirting, it seemed—with Deputy Tommy, who was half sitting on the corner edge of the small table. His eyes immediately cut from Denise to her.
He smiled. “I assume you found Sheriff Slater’s office, ma’am.”
“I did. Thank you.”
Just as she approached the door to exit, he said, “Have a good evening.”
Her smile was broad as she turned to face him and Denise. “Oh, I plan to.” She paused for a second, then said, “Oh, Denise, should we save you a seat at the football game?”
Denise glowered at her. “No, that won’t be necessary.”
“Alright then, you two have a good evening.”
She headed out the door to her Mercedes. When she reached to open the car door, she realized her hand was trembling, her heart beating fast, her armpits moist.
Okay. Maybe she wasn’t as tough and self-assured as she let on, but Charlene knew what she wanted, and what she didn’t. And she didn’t want Denise a part of Roy’s life.
As she made the short drive from the courthouse to the hotel, her mind drifted from Denise to something much more important at the moment—what she would wear to the Homecoming game.
Her stomach churned as she considered attending a football game at her old high school after over twenty years. Would anyone be there who would recognize her, who would remember her as “that poor girl whose dad hung himself and whose mom bags groceries at the J&J”?
It didn’t matter, because, just like back then, she would be with Roy Slater, the star quarterback, the only good thing in her life at the time, and the only thing she believed that had made her at all acceptable to the citizens of this town.